Michelle Wu / Daily Nexus

Candy canes have long been a beloved staple of the Christmas holiday season. But, have you ever considered where candy canes originated? Why do they have such a peculiar shape? And why the stripes?

Legend has it that, around the 1670s, a choirmaster working at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany was having trouble keeping his young students quiet during long sermons. To solve this problem, he asked a local candymaker to make him some hard candy to hand out and appease the children. However, in order to connect these treats to the Church and its teaching, he requested to have them bent to represent a shepherd’s hook, helping children remember the Biblical tale of the shepherds who paid their visits to the infant Jesus. He also hoped that the white color of the candy would represent the sinless life of Jesus. 

The shape of this famous candy had taken shape early on, but the colored stripes are believed to have originated over two centuries later in the 1920s. Most likely, this was a marketing strategy employed by Bob McCormack, whose company Bobs Candies invented the Keller Machine, a machine that twisted long pieces of sugar candy and formed the tops into their signature hook shape. This allowed the company to increase its production of these candies from hundreds of candy canes per day to upwards of thousands of candy canes per day. To this day, Bobs Candies is the leading national producer, producing 1.8 million sticks of candy per day!

Some theorize that the stripes were actually added long before McCormack and were used for communication among persecuted Christians. Others guess that the red stripes are meant to represent the blood of Jesus, and the candy cane’s shape actually stands for the letter J. 

The peppermint flavor’s origin is not known, but some theories still circulate. In the 18th century, apothecaries would combine prescribed herbs with sugar to make medicines more palatable. Peppermint extract was often added to mask the flavors of the other herbs. Following the Civil War, the prices of sugar decreased, allowing candy makers to form a new market separate from that of the apothecaries, and peppermints became a popular candy. 

Now that you’re informed about the history of this holiday candy, here are some creative ways to use candy canes this holiday season: 

This holiday season, treat yourself or your loved ones to some traditional, festive candy canes and appreciate their rich history to get into the festive spirit.